China Premier Li seeks to bolster his country’s economic outlook at Shanghai trade fair


TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Chinese Premier Li Qiang on Sunday pledged to continue deepening reforms, expand free trade zones and relax market access for foreign investment while seeking to generate excitement around a largely lackluster economy.

Li made the remarks when delivering a keynote speech at the opening of the 6th China International Import Expo in Shanghai, seeking to draw thousands of foreign businesses shopping for Chinese products and looking to expand trade and investment with the world’s second-largest economy.

China’s economy expanded at a 4.9% annual pace between July-September, beating analysts’ forecasts of about 4.5%, official data show. But that was much slower than the 6.3% annual growth rate of the previous quarter.

The Chinese government has adopted various policies to help the economy; raising spending on building ports and other infrastructure, cutting interest rates and easing curbs on home-buying. But economists say wider reforms are needed to address long-term problems that are stifling growth.

The expo being held through Friday is an annual event launched by President Xi Jinping in 2018 with the theme of promoting China’s image as being in favor of free trade.

“We will further relax market access … protecting the rights and interests of foreign investment in accordance with the law, and continue to create a market-oriented, legal, and international business environment,” Li said at the opening.

Foreign businesses have complained of a worsening investment environment in China, particularly with the passage of new legislation that could deem the possession of standard economic forecasts as being a form of espionage. American businesses have said current conditions make it almost impossible to invest in China without taking on significant risks.

This year’s expo brought Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, currently paying an official visit to China which is largely focused on restoring trade links blocked for years due to economic and political tensions.

From the outset of his prime ministership, Albanese had demanded that China immediately lift what he described as “unjustified” official and unofficial trade barriers costing Australian exporters 20 billion Australian dollars ($13 billion) a year.

Those barriers have since been substantially reduced and now cost around AU$2 billion ($1.3 billion).

“The fact that it is the first visit in seven years to our major trading partner is a very positive step and I look forward to constructive discussions and dialogue with the president and the premier during my visit to Shanghai and Beijing,” Albanese said prior to his departure on Saturday.

At a luncheon in Shanghai on Sunday, Albanese said he was planning to discuss joint approaches to climate change, challenges to agriculture and cooperation in the arts, and said, despite its ups and downs, the relationship continued to be “based on respect, maturity, and mutual benefit.”

“Australia will cooperate where we can, disagree where we must and engage in our national interest,” Albanese said. “Dialogue with China is vital to helping secure peace, prosperity and security in our region and globally, and to navigate the challenges and opportunities our region will face this century.”

More than 200 Australian companies are being represented at the Shanghai fair.

Albanese has signaled that Australia won’t back China’s bid to join the free trade agreement known as the 12-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the CPTPP, saying China did not live up to the proposed standards. He has also said he would protest a lack of transparency in China’s treatment of a detained Australian democracy blogger Yang Hengjun when meeting with President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Despite that, Li said China would continue to “actively pursue the accession to the CPTPP and the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement and negotiate for the conclusion of more high standard free trade agreements.”

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